Books

What I’m reading

I spend a lot of time reading. I have a lot of reading to do for my PhD: often memoirs, as my research is into life writing around disability, and then also academic texts on areas like literary theory and disability studies. I’m really enjoying my research, but I’m also making sure to give myself time each day to read something non-PhD related. For half an hour each night before I turn the light off, I love losing myself in a good book. It’s nice to have this bit of ‘me time’, and it helps me unwind and relax at the end of a busy day.

Here are some of the books I’ve been enjoying recently.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth

I read a lot of young adult novels. Partly because I write young adult fiction and so it’s useful to be familiar with it, but also because I genuinely enjoy it. One of the best young adult novels I’ve read recently is The Miseducation of Cameron Post. As well as the way it so deftly deals with LGBTQ+ identity and discrimination, I also loved this novel for its beautiful writing. The vividness of characters and place (it’s set in Montana) is so well done, and I was immersed into this evocative, powerful book.

A Snowfall of Silver by Laura Wood

A Snowfall of Silver is linked to another of Laura Wood’s young adult novels, the gorgeous A Sky Painted Gold, which I absolutely adored, so I was very excited to read this when it came out a couple of months ago. Set in the 1930s, it sees eighteen year old Freya leave her sleepy Cornish home and travel to London with the hopes of becoming an actress. Laura makes the historical setting so real and enticing, and I immediately warmed to the humour and enthusiasm of Freya and the other characters. It’s a believable, touching story by one of my favourite young adult authors.

The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith

I love a good short story collection. I think it’s the way you can experience a short story in one sitting, and how a collection can take you through so many different lives. I haven’t read enough Ali Smith (I desperately need to read her much-praised seasonal quartet) so decided to give this collection a try. I like the slight surrealness of some of the stories, the unexpected directions, and the way she addresses questions of perspective and narration.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Over the past few months, my lovely sister-in-law and I have been recommending each other books. I love hearing her thoughts on books I mention to her, and trying the ones she suggests. Reading is naturally quite a solitary thing, so having someone to send WhatsApp voice notes to where I share how I’m finding her recommendations is really lovely, and so far we’ve had some great conversations and seen much-loved books from new perspectives. A Thousand Splendid Suns came highly recommended, so I started reading a couple of nights ago. It is set in Afghanistan and follows the story of Mariam, a young woman whose story I’m already feeling so drawn into and moved by. I’m only a few chapters in, but I can tell this is a novel that deserves the high praise it receives. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Books

What I’m reading

I read pretty much every day. I think it’s one of the best things a writer can do – read as often as you can, and read widely. Over the strangeness of the past half year, my reading routine has been a bit off. Sometimes I’ve lacked the energy or focus, but fortunately I’ve still regularly found myself lost in other worlds for blissful hours.

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading recently.

books

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

More novella than novel, this is one of my all time favourite books, and earlier this year I decided to reread it. Which is a rare thing for me – I’m not a big re-reader and it takes some real passion to delve back into a book I’ve already read. I kind of have the mentality of there are so many books out there to read, I can’t keep rereading when there’s so many I haven’t read yet!

I love the effortless gothic writing of Shirley Jackson, and how instantly you’re grabbed by her characters. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is told from the point of view of a young woman called Merricat, and there is instant intrigue into her life in a small New England town in the 1950s. Why does Merricat hate the townspeople so much? Why does she live such an isolated life with her sister and uncle? What’s the story behind the death of the rest of her family?

Reading it for a second time, I picked up on details and hints that I didn’t before, and loved being drawn back into Merricat’s strange and alluring story.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first book in the seven that make up Maya Angelou’s autobiography, this memoir explores her life growing up as a black woman in 1930s southern America. Angelou’s writing is so evocative of her childhood in Arkansas and I got such a strong sense of the people in her life, her family, the places she lives, all told in beautiful, engaging prose. Her experiences of racism are shocking, and the historical and political context of her work makes this a particularly vital read.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Confession: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book. I’ve read Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife over the past couple of years and… they didn’t grab me. I could tell they were good, but I didn’t feel the love for His Dark Materials that I knew others do.

Taking the final novel of the trilogy off the shelf, I almost felt I was reading The Amber Spyglass because, well, I’d read the first two, it’s such a famous series, etc. etc…. It almost felt like an obligation, which is not a good way to feel before you read a book. But soon I was up late engrossed in Lyra and Will’s story. Perhaps it was how the many threads of the narrative were coming together and the sense of satisfaction that brought, perhaps it was I just found the events in this last story in the series more interesting – whatever it was, it clicked, and I finished The Amber Spyglass a Pullman convert.

Dear Life by Alice Munro

I love short stories – writing them and reading them. Despite this, I’ve rarely read a collection of stories by a single author cover to cover, instead just dipping in, but decided to give it a go with Dear Life by renowned Canadian short story writer Alice Munro. Some of the stories were wonderful, and I was grabbed by how Munro tells of the small extraordinariness of ordinary people, beautifully observed. “Gravel”, “Train”, and “Night” in particular stayed in my head for a while after, which I think is a sign of good writing, where you find yourself mulling over a character or detail or just the overall ambience long after you’ve put the book down.

Just Kids by Patti Smithpatti smith

After enjoying rereading We Have Always Lived in the Castle so much, I’m currently rediscovering another book: Just Kids by Patti Smith. I first read this memoir when I was working a job I wasn’t particularly enjoying, and my bus would often get me there way before my start time, so I’d get a coffee and sit and read for half an hour, which became something to look forward to when my alarm went off each morning.

Just Kids is one of the books I read during that time, and it made me imagine another life, the life of artists in New York City, and I got a vicarious enjoyment and also a wistful pining as I read, and then I’d look at the time and realise I needed to finish the page I was on, slip the book into my bag, and walk the five minutes to the office. I’m only about 50 pages in so far, but already I’m remembering why I loved Just Kids so much the first time around.

What books have you been enjoying?